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Taiwan Boe-Bot Contest with PlayRobot Draws 500 Students

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 21 May, 2013 0 comments

A one-class rule puts emphasis on programming, electronics and power supply

Taiwan has at least a dozen quality engineering universities that produce graduates for their “Silicon Valley” near Taipei: Hsinchu Science Center. This includes the place where most of the world’s chip’s are made (including the Propeller 2) - Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) and all of the companies exist who provide design, test and measurement services.

When Jessica Uelmen and I (@ParallaxKen) arrived this morning at Beitou University in Taipei we thought we’d perhaps casually watch a robot contest from the side while munching on a steamed pork bun and drinking pineapple juice. We knew we would give a quick keynote and maybe fly a quadcopter, but we quickly learned that the organizers, TV crews, our distributor PlayRobot, and university professors had something drastically different in mind. Taiwanese treat foreign guests with very special honor and recognition – they put us front and center with much respect!   

First the Ceremonies, Gifts and Recognition

Big events in Taiwan always include gift exchanges, some ceremonial handshakes, and lots of photos. Add a few foreign guests and it gets really exciting! You’ll see below how we signed special agreements between National Quemoy University, Beitou University, PlayRobot and Parallax for future exchanges. During the week we had trained over 60 students and professors on the new Propeller Multicore C program being unveiled on Learn.parallax.com on May 7th. This was our third trip to Taipei for this purpose so it seemed very appropriate to move our relationship to a more committed level involving more collaboration. Expect to see these Taiwanese students and professors at Parallax in the future!

Let the Games Begin!

We started the contest with a very short presentation about how a student could win the contest next year. Our advice was simple: they use the Propeller Boe-Bot with multicore C, switch to our new high-speed servos with encoders, and most importantly be creative and have fun.

The idea from Robert and Jelly of PlayRobot was that the contest be officially launched with an indoor flight demonstration of our huge ELEV-8, a loud whizzing beast with 4-foot diameter span, 16” propellers weighing 10 pounds. A well-built quadcopter gives people an artificial level of comfort when it flies, but we are very aware of the safety issues.

After looking at the building layout we made the decision to fly! Most of the students were on second level seating or protected underneath, so the risk of human machine interaction seemed quite low. The flight was received with lots of excitement and the Robot Museum director officially started the games.

One-Class Design Based on Boe-Bot Chassis

The robot course was fairly straightforward: traverse a maze and find the bright light.  Get to the end as quickly as possible and you win!  

We hadn’t seen hundreds of Boe-Bots in one place before, fully customized and ready to complete. The workmanship was really quite good, too – we didn’t see any stray wires, loose hardware or sensors.  Many students even etched their own PCBs.

The rules for this contest required a standard Boe-Bot frame and servo system with an Arduino or BASIC Stamp. The modifications allowed were for sensors, power supply and mechanical mounting systems excluding the servos. Participants had designed customized mounting systems for Ping))) sensors, infrared sensors, whiskers (including some really creative mods to detect edge bumps), and of course used higher voltage batteries to go faster.

Programming tricks made all the difference. The winners used the course layout with some combination of dead reckoning and data storage to determine where they were in the course. Those who got it right finished the course in under 30 seconds while others who didn’t know their location might even have left the maze from the starting position.

This contest was very well run according to a schedule, something very different from what I normally see in the USA. I think part of the scheduling success was from the fact that it was a one-design using the same robot course.

You can bet we’ll be back next year with very fast Propeller robots running 36-count encoders, playing music for bonus points.